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CalPERS: Finish Mandated Thermal Coal Divestment

By Staff - Fossil Free California, March 11, 2021

California Public Employees Retirement System still holds $8.5 million in thermal coal producers in violation of SB 185, a 2015 state law on thermal coal divestment. This act requires CalPERS to divest from companies that earn the majority of their revenue from thermal coal production.

When the fund divested from several coal companies in 2017, it stayed invested in three thermal coal companies that met the criteria—Exxaro, Adaro, and Banpu—because “they had indicated plans to transition their business models to adapt to clean energy generation (such as through a decrease in reliance on thermal coal mining as a revenue source).”

However, four years later, all three of these companies continue to make well over 50% of their revenue from thermal coal (according to data from the Global Coal Exit List at coalexit.org) and show few signs of transitioning their business models. In fact, all of these companies have documented expansion plans for their coal operations. Although South Africa-based Exxaro Resources recently announced that it will not acquire more thermal coal assets, it already owns more than 31 billion tons of recoverable coal, which is more than enough to create a “tipping point” for Earth’s climate.

All three coal companies have demonstrated contempt for the lives of communities displaced or impacted by their mining operations. Exxaro, in South Africa, displaces communities from mining sites in violation of the South African Constitution and with insignificant compensation leaving many communities to struggle to even find necessities like food while their air and water is irreparably poisoned.

Similarly, Adaro, an Indonesian company, strip mines forested land and continues to displace native people, threatening their lives and cultures. Adaro was also responsible for the deaths of 24 children working in mines and continues polluting surrounding areas such that water becomes undrinkable, and farmers have to abandon their land. Finally, Banpu, a Thai company, builds mines across Asia. They use open ponds to collect pollutants which inevitably enter the ground water and destroy crops. Farmers in Thailand reported being forcibly bought out and eventually forced to move because the added cost of purchasing clean water combined with the destruction of their livelihood was too much.

Join Fossil Free California and allies to call on CalPERS to finish its mandated thermal coal divestment by immediately adding Exxaro, Adaro, and Banpu to the thermal coal exclusion list.

Send Letter to CalPERS

Extraction, Extremism, Insurrection: Impacts on Government Employees

From 1955 to Today, Recognition of Struggle is Key to Transit Equity

By Leo Blain - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2021

What were you doing when you were 15? Homework, sports, parties, dances: these are standard fare for 15 year-olds. 

Claudette Colvin was no standard 15-year old, though. When she was 15, she sat down on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and refused to give up her seat to a white person. She was arrested and wrongfully charged with assault and battery. Despite being just 15 at the time of her arrest, Colvin was booked into a cell in Montgomery’s adult jail. When Colvin’s pastor, Reverend H.H. Johnson bailed her out the evening of her arrest, he told her that she had “just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”

And, she did it on March 2, 1955: Nine months before Rosa Parks’ similar and much more famous action. 

Colvin brought a lawsuit along with three other women that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and led to the legal desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. When the Montgomery bus system was desegregated Colvin wasn’t invited on the first desegregated bus. Neither was Parks. In fact, none of the women who were among the first to be arrested in protest of the segregated bus system were invited. Five men took the first ride: Martin Luther King Jr., E. D. Nixon, Ralph Abernathy, and Glenn Smiley, and Colvin’s lawyer, Fred Gray. [2]

Spurred by what she had learned in Black history classes at school, Colvin was the first person to be arrested for refusal to surrender in Montgomery. She was the first person in Montgomery to make a legal claim that transit segregation violated her constitutional rights. The contemporary civil rights movement starts with Claudette Colvin’s act of near-unconscionable bravery, yet she has been largely erased from the history books. 

After Colvin’s arrest, she was ostracized by many community members and struggled to find work after high school. She got pregnant soon after her arrest, and due to her pregnancy and the preference of civil rights leaders for Rosa Parks as the face of the boycott, Colvin was largely cast aside by the very movement she had sparked. Ultimately, her perception in Montgomery became untenable and she moved to the Bronx where she worked in relative obscurity as a nurse. 

In recent years, though, Ms. Colvin has found a champion in movement leaders such as Samuel Jordan, founder of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition. For Jordan, telling Colvin’s story is both long overdue and a critical piece of his work towards transit equity in Baltimore and nationwide. Baltimore has a pattern of public transit policy that is harmful to marginalized residents and has been used to manipulate Black youth. If Claudette Colvin’s story of taking a bold stand against transit inequity can get the attention it deserves, maybe the young people who are victims of transit inequity today can have their voices heard too. 

Essential Workers and Renewable Energy: Key Themes During Community Hearing on Transit Equity

By Judy Asman - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2021

Right: Placards created by Charleston, South Carolina-based transit riders advocacy group Best Friends of Low Country Transit that were displayed on bus seats to honor Rosa Parks on her Birthday, Transit Equity Day. To see full media coverage of actions like these, click here.

With nearly eight hours of testimony by more than 50 essential workers and riders, both live and pre-recorded, the Community Hearing on Transit Equity, which took place on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, provided an intentional space for those wanting to share their plights brought on by transit service cuts during the pandemic and with greater threats to transit funding.

The Hearing kicked off with an opening panel, welcoming movement leaders such as International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth Kirk of the Amalgamated Transit Union—a founding union of Transit Equity Day, which takes place on Feb. 4, Rosa Parks’ birthday, each year. International Secretary-Treasurer Kirk lifted up Ms. Parks’ act of resistance, which taught us: “Each of us must choose, whether to move or not,” as he underscored transit equity as a civil right. He also talked about transit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with busses emitting “80% less carbon dioxide” than cars and that busses can also offset traffic congestion.

Kathi Zoern, a transit rider in Wasau, Wisconsin, who is visually impaired, called her bus pass her “car keys to independence.” Passionately emphasizing that transit and transit workers are “essential,” Zoern, stressed that those living in “outlying communities,” three miles from a bus stop, who are unable to drive or who cannot afford a car “cannot get to work, go to school, shopping, medical appointments or go to places to socialize.”

Jonathan Smith, President, New York Metro Area Postal Union Local 10, of the American Postal Workers Union, reminded viewers and listeners that postal workers help to “preserve democracy, and we are proud to do it.” He added, “Many of our members rely on the bus and the train to get to work and to their families, and their families also rely on these services as well. If it were not for the transit in our city, we would not be able to process your mail.”

The hearing also highlighted collaborations that have formed as a result of frustrations with transit authorities and extreme pressure on transit workers with limited funding. In San Francisco, disability rights activist and journalist Zach Karnazes and Roger Marenco, President of the Transport Workers Union of America Local 250A, teamed up to organize for fair access to transit by disabled riders, often challenged by tight schedules for bus operators.

Then there are the impacts on young people who depend on public transit to get to school. During the final hour of the hearing with the American Federation of Teachers–moderated by Jane English, Program Manager on the Environmental Climate Justice Program, NAACP–Carl Williams, President of Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees and Vice President of American Federation of Teachers, and Wayne Scott, President of Colorado Classified Employees Association, talked about the extreme consequences of students living in areas where there are service cuts in transportation–these include the need to shut down campuses that become unreachable to students and even higher risks of higher drop-out rates.

A riveting closing presentation by Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, tied the social isolation of COVID to lack of transit and light rail, especially within rural areas. President Weingarten, whose union recently endorsed the Green New Deal and the THRIVE Agenda, talked about the need for revamping transit systems not just for mass accessibility but to support climate. “There is an opportunity here as well. It’s not just new jobs but it’s also revamping them in a way that we can reduce our carbon footprint,” President Weingarten said, recounting that AFT’s pension system was a foundational investor in the modernization of La Guardia Airport, an effort recognized for its transition to renewable energy “and the jobs that came about from building all of that.”

To watch both days of the Community Hearing on Transit Equity in English and Spanish, as well as all of the submitted pre-recorded testimonies, visit bit.ly/savetransit2021.

Southern Struggles in Transit During Covid-19: Safe Jobs Save Lives Campaign

By various - Southern Workers Assembly, July 12, 2020

Transit workers, particularly in the public sector, have been on the frontlines of struggle in the midst of both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprising. Numerous successful job actions, work stoppages, and strikes have been held by workers in Birmingham, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia, among many other cities throughout the South and the U.S.

These struggles have largely elevated health and safety demands for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), better sanitizing of buses and transit centers, and social distancing - for transit workers and passengers alike - alongside calls for hazard pay. Many frontline essential workers rely on public transit to get to and from their jobs, a reality that has been reflected in many of the fights that have broken out in transit during this period.

Because of the failure of reactionary state governments that have capitulated to the demands of capital and other right-wing forces who have called for a quick return to business as usual, alongside the woefully inadequate for profit healthcare system in this country, COVID-19 cases are once again spiking across the U.S. and particularly in the South.

In April, the Southern Workers Assembly launched the Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign to advance the organization of workers at the workplace and to build solidarity formations such as local workers assemblies, particularly in light of the many struggles breaking out in response to the crisis and a system that values profit above all else. The SWA views the development of this type of organization as critical to confront the two pandemics facing workers, particularly Black workers - COVID-19 and racism.

What can all workers learn from the struggles waged by transit workers during this period? How can we continue to build a regional Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign, alongside the formation of workers unity council and workers assemblies? Join us for the discussion that will take up these and other questions.

Reimagined Recovery: Black Workers, the Public Sector, and COVID-19

By Deja Thomas, Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, and Saba Waheed - Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at Work - June 2020

This report highlights the validity of public sector work as a solution in the response and recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic on Black people across communities in Los Angeles County. Covid-19 disproportionately impacts Black workers and communities. History shows that even once a disaster is over, Black workers and Black people across communities continue to disproportionately feel its impact far longer than other communities.

Through the most recent government data and relevant literature, this report demonstrates why and how public sector jobs should be a tool used to address the Black jobs crisis and the recovery from Covid-19, particularly in Los Angeles County.

Download (PDF).

Rebuilding our Economy for All: BC Federation of Labour Submission to the Economic Recovery Taskforce

By staff International BC Labor Federation, May 2020

The economic shutdown resulting from this pandemic is historically unprecedented. Never before have we collectively decided to close entire sectors of our economy, and dramatically curtail others in service of a greater good – our collective health. BC has weathered both this pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in large part because of the sacrifices and courage of working people. They have continued to do the important work of treating the sick, providing vital public services, and ensuring we can continue to have the necessities of life. COVID-19 has revealed that essential portions of BC’s economy depend on frontline workers.

But as public respect for the value of their work has grown, so has our recognition of the many gaps this pandemic has exposed. For example, we better understand the paramount importance of workplace safety and standards, the need for robust public services and social supports, and our collective responsibility to address the continued marginalization of vulnerable populations.

We have the chance as our economy emerges from hibernation to address those gaps, and to do much more. The choices we make in the coming weeks and months can help us build an economy – and a province – equipped to address climate change while prospering along the way. Our choices must acknowledge and genuinely embrace reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. Our choices must secure opportunities and equity in every community of this province.

There will always be voices who suggest we move in the opposite direction: that the public sector should retreat from the economy and the community; that working people who were this province’s lifeline revert back to less protections, poorer working conditions and lower wages; that vulnerable populations remain vulnerable; that we should abandon years of progress toward reconciliation. They will argue that all of this will make business more competitive and generate jobs.

But even in an unprecedented situation, we can learn from history. And history tells us again and again – from the Great Depression through countless recessions and downturns – that ’austerity‘ only serves to freeze out working people and the most vulnerable, enriching a handful of already-wealthy people while hollowing our communities and leaving most of us to fend for ourselves. Austerity, in fact, is why we have many of the gaps this pandemic has so glaringly exposed in the first place. We also know that this pandemic will not impact people or communities equally, and thus our response must work to decrease these inequities, rather than exacerbate them. We can’t cut and slash our way back to where we were before – let alone to a better, fairer, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

Read the text (PDF).

Scuttle the Shuttle: Lyft, strikes and blockades

By staff - LibCom.Org, June 22, 2017

Saying "It's just a bus but without the regulation/without unions/only for people with smartphones" is very incomplete as well, and it's worth unpacking why.

Firstly, regulations and working conditions are all the eventual product of years of struggle and strike action: from the ‘Great Upheaval’ of 1877 and the 1894 Pullman railway strikes all the way to the transit strikes which hit Philly last year, strikes in the transportation of goods and people have been a staple of US labour relations.

Yet to say "That’s because workers organised into unions" also doesn't explain why transport is so prone to strike action. There are a few reasons why strikes (and unions) are so much more common in transport than they are in other sectors in the American labour market.

The first reason is this: stop mass transit and tens of thousands of other workplaces are disrupted when their employees turn up late (if they turn up at all) or their customers decide not to come out and spend money to avoid transport hassle. This creates an extra pressure on bosses to keep the service running.

The second reason: transit is mostly immune from spatial fixes. While bosses can move a car or garment factory to China, doing the same with a bus or train route obviously isn't viable. Thus, while factory workers in the US were mostly decimated in the 1970s, transit/distribution have kept going to some extent until now.

For the genesis of Lyft Shuttle, a good place to start would be the 2009 deregulation of the UK post service. This followed the massive 2006-7 strike wave in the postal service, where staggered official strikes were backed up by work-to-rules and the refusal of other postal workers to cross picket lines, leading to disciplinary action which then led to further wildcat strikes. Post just did not get delivered for weeks at a time in some cases.

The response was to allow private companies to handle some deliveries, piggy-backing off Royal Mail's central infrastructure. Firms were then able to shift postal provider if affected by strike action, weakening leverage of workers: disruption was disrupted.

Fast-forward ten years and the gig economy starts to see industrial strife as Deliveroo workers go on wildcat strike in London. The atomisation of the workforce is clearly still not entirely successful as collection points still afford places for riders to meet and discuss issues, swap contacts and organise their strike via WhatsApp. Still harder than it used to be at Royal Mail depots though.

Vigorous Campaign Revives Transit Union in Right-to-Work Virginia

By John Ertl - Labor Notes, May 31, 2017

Going into its latest contract, the transit union in Fairfax County, Virginia, was in tough shape. People weren’t active because they didn’t believe the union could do much—and the union couldn’t do much because people weren’t active.

Management never budged on the issues that stewards brought up. Grievances piled up, unresolved. And since Virginia is a “right-to-work” state, half the workers in the bargaining unit weren’t even members of Transit (ATU) Local 1764.

But after a robust union campaign, in a matter of months the Fairfax Connector went from a unit at risk of decertifying to a strong union shop.

Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation—yet the 600 bus drivers, mechanics, and utilities staff at the Fairfax Connector have no pension, because they work for a private company rather than the county. Many can’t afford to live in the affluent Washington, D.C., suburb where they work.

Workers were seething because they had been cheated out of a retirement plan. In the previous contract, they had given up a 2 percent raise in exchange for a pension. But when a pension plan could not be set up according to the contract’s poorly written terms, the company exploited the loophole and kept the money.

“People saw that the union wasn’t working on their behalf, and they saw that management just did whatever it wanted,” said bus driver Rachid Mhamdi. “There was no trust in the union.”

Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation

Edited by Satoko Kishimoto and Olivier Petitjean - Transnational Institute, June 2017

You would be forgiven, especially if you live in Europe, to think that public services are by nature expensive, inefficient, maybe even somewhat outdated, and that reforming them to adapt to new challenges is difficult. It would seem natural to assume – because this is what most politicians, media and so-called experts tell us continuously – that we, as citizens and users, should resign ourselves to paying ever higher tariffs for services of an ever lower standard, and that service workers have no choice but to accept ever more degraded conditions. It would seem that private companies will inevitably play an ever larger role in the provision of public services, because everything has a price, because politicians have lost sight of the common good and citizens are only interested in their own individual pursuits.

This book, however, tells a completely different story. Sometimes it may feel as though we are living in a time when profit and austerity are our only horizons. In reality, below the radar, thousands of politicians, public officials, workers and unions, and social movements are working to reclaim or create effective public services that address the basic needs of people and respond to our social, environmental and climate challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Our research shows there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalisation of public services worldwide in recent years, some of them involving several cities. In total there have been more than 1600 cities in 45 countries involved in (re)municipalisation. And these (re)municipalisations generally succeed-ed in bringing down costs and tariffs, improving conditions for workers and boosting service quality, while ensuring greater transparency and accountability.

Read the text (PDF).

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